Rainbow leadership. Let’s not do a black or white on Green

June 15, 2016

Retail billionaire Philip Green appears before a parliamentary committee over his governance of British Home Stores.  He is already cast in the role of villain by some, and a heroic defender of entrepreneurial success for others. There is need for more rainbow leadership, as I will explain

The specific news story in this post deals with Sir Philip’s appearance before the Work and Pensions Committee. I also introduce a new approach to leadership, which I have labelled rainbow leadership.

What is rainbow leadership?

Rainbow leadership attempts to relocate leadership understanding through the ‘whole spectrum’ metaphor of a rainbow.

It stands alongside earlier attempts to present alternative images of reality, such as are found in the classic text Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan. The existing and familiar metaphors include the machine metaphor, the network or brain metaphor, the culture metaphor, the organic metaphor, and so on.

The rainbow metaphor connects particularly easily with interpretational approaches to exploring the real and the imagined.  In my own writings it is implied in my various treatments of creative thinking, and most recently in Dilemmas of Leadership, earlier this year. Specifically, there is emphasis on ‘Yes and’ thinking, and its comparison with Either Or thinking, for which the metaphor is often black and white or binary thinking.

What’s black and white and red all over?

What’s black and white and red all over? The Christmas Cracker teaser only works if it is spoken not written. Rainbow thinking is, according to its metaphor red, green, blue and other colours which together may recombine into white.  Rainbow leadership recognizes this part-whole issue and deals with it rather than trying to over-analyse (splitting it down to its parts).

Black and white and Green

Leaders we deserve has followed the turbulent career of Philip Green since our blog started ten years ago. His titanic battles for ownership of M&S revealed Green’s pugnacious (sometimes literally) leadership style in the heavyweight category against Stuart Rose.

His appearance today [15 June 2016] focuses on his sale of his vast retail interests in British Home Stores for a peppercorn £1 with a modest sweetener towards its huge pension liabilities. The new owners were either a brilliantly visionary group of entrepreneurs, or a bunch of body snatchers.

Its new leader, Dominic Chappell, was described earlier by The Mirror as

an ex-racing car driver and former bankrupt. In a last desperate effort to rescue the company, Mr Chappell was reported to have moved £1.5 million from the company in an imaginative but ill-fated manoeuvre more suited to the racing track. He has since paid most of it back.

The Chairman of the select committee, Frank Field, spiced up today’s contest in advance. His remarks were followed by Sir Philip’s calling for his resignation, and threatening to pull out of the ‘invitation’.

This risks further censure. Calls have been made for his Knighthood to be withdrawn.

Back to rainbow leadership

The select committee has been accused of lacking the Rottweiler style of its former Chair, Margaret Hodge. My viewing last week suggested that their conversations  with Mike Ashley showed more than a hint of rainbow leadership.

Ashley, famed for his impulsive and confrontational style, was himself more conciliatory, accepting his corporate deficiencies. He even accepted that his company had broken the minimum wage employment legislation.

It will be interesting to see whether Sir Philip also enters into this spirit of rainbow leadership today.

To be continued

Marc Bolland joins M&S Xmas party

December 15, 2009

Marc Bolland joins Marks & Spencer earlier than planned to join in the Xmas festivities. Share price swings lead him to be dubbed the billion dollar man

So what do we know about the new leader, and the task ahead of him? Websites, usually reliable fast access to such information, are a bit sluggish at present. The Guardian has been following the story more carefully than most, and offered a snapshot view

The 50-year-old Dutchman has certainly been a crowd pleaser at Morrisons, which he has quietly reinvigorated in the past three years. When he arrived in 2006, profits had crashed to a low of £54m after the botched takeover of Safeway. This year, profits at Morrisons are expected to top £750m, well ahead of larger rival Sainsbury’s, which is expected to make £540m. Such was the impact on the share prices of both companies following the announcement of Bolland’s appointment – Marks surged 6% while Morrisons sank 5% – that he is being dubbed the “$1bn man” in the City.

The article went on to outline the challenges facing M&S.


M&S used to lead the market here, but has been left behind as rivals have raised their games. This area should be Bolland’s forte. But he must decide whether to plough funds into online delivery – where no one makes money apart from Tesco – and its convenience chain Simply Food.

Ageing customers

According to research by Datamonitor, more than 75% of shoppers in the food halls are over 45. In the fashion department the problem is worse: 65% of its main clothing shoppers were aged over 55, as were those who accounted for 48% of spending on M&S clothing last year. Bolland will have to find a way to make the stores, the ranges and the brand appeal to younger shoppers, particularly those with young families.

International growth

[Sir Stuart] Rose reckons his predecessor’s decision to shut down its European stores was an act of retail vandalism and has been busily re-opening branches overseas, many as joint ventures and franchises…A much-hyped first store in China had a disastrous first few months…Analyst Katherine Wynne at Investec reckons overseas growth is vital for M&S’s future and expects Bolland to beef up the retailer with international expertise.

Brand values

For a while, after Rose and his marketing sidekick Steven Sharp moved in, the tired old brand did look a little different but recently it has been back to dull old Marks with little brand appeal…Bolland – who learned about marketing in the beer business says he has “worked a lot in re-energising brands” . Bolland will have to repeat [his success at Morrisons] at M&S.


Since May, finance director Dyson has been leading an internal project updating M&S’s systems and distribution network. When he unveiled the first results last month, the reaction of some analysts was: “Why didn’t Rose tackle these problems earlier?” The network of 110 warehouses has to be reduced to four “mega-shed” distribution centres. Too many stores in the wrong place – on high streets rather than retail parks – and its internet sales are far lower than they should be, reflecting the age profile of M&S’s clientele.

A Xmas Story

There was another Xmas story at Marks. I add it as it may offer an insight to the corporate culture. I must have watched a typical treacle-sweet advertisement. but my attention span hadn’t taken in its so-called offensive finish. This involved a model (presumably) prancing briefly and ironically (presumably) through a pantomime-style forest in her M&S lingerie (presumably).

Somehow the slow build-up to its ‘offensive’ end seems to me to typify the struggles and conflicts at the company as it tries to modernise its image while holding fast to its traditions.

Ethical Companies, M&S and Plan A

July 9, 2008

Despite its recent problems, M&S retains a reputation as a ‘green’ company. We evaluate this ahead of today’s general meeting

Leaders we deserve subscribers will remember its brilliant leadership statement of commitment to a green agenda: ‘There is no plan B’.

Katie Stafford, Sustainable Development Manager at Marks & Spencer outlined it to The Oxford-Achilles Working Group on Corporate Social Responsibility last year [11th May 2007].

Marks & Spencer has announced ‘Plan A’, a business-wide £200m ‘eco-plan’ which will have an impact on every part of M&S’ operations over the next five years. The 100-point plan means that by 2012 M&S will:

• become carbon neutral;
• send no waste to landfill;
• extend sustainable sourcing
• set new standards in ethical trading; and
• help customers and employees live a healthier lifestyle

The green agenda at M&S

Stuart Rose arrived as a major reinforcement in the company’s battle to fight off Philip Green’s bid. But the company was already being credited with (and profiting from) a green profile.

Marks & Spencer’s new chief executive took time out from fighting off takeover bids and accusations of insider share-dealing to pick up Business in the Community’s Company of the Year award from the Prince of Wales in London last night. The awards were judged by more than 100 assessors over 12 months and M&S impressed them with its integration of a set of values into its business practices.

It is not the retailer’s first such recognition. The company has been ranked No 1 by Greenpeace on its use of non-genetically-modified foods, ranked as the top food retailer by Friends of the Earth on pesticide reduction, and No 1 by the Marine Conservation Society on fish sourcing and by Accountability/Insight Investment on labour standards. These ratings have contributed to M&S being named as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index’s most sustainable retailer in the world for the past two years.

Mark Goyder, director of Tomorrow’s Company, said: “Corporate responsibility is one essential building block of enduring shareholder value. I hope M&S’s outstanding record as a responsible company will be properly valued as part of the overall decision shareholders now have to make about its future.”

Rowland Hill, M&S’s corporate social responsibility executive, said the current management was fully committed to corporate responsibility. He said: “We’re very comfortable with Stuart Rose’s approach to corporate responsibility. We’ve had a chance to re-assess where we are and this has resulted in the re-endorsement of many budgets. Philip Green’s record with other retailers would make us, in the CSR department, less confident about the future should his attempted bid succeed.”

Our financialization commentator suggested that longer-term this will sustain the company, telling Leaders we deserve

In the current bear market and the economic environment I do not think that the City expects spectacular shareholder value from the retailers. So, the initiatives with clear story lines that respond to the current trends- 100-point 5-year plan with £200 million spending to become a green leader in retailing- can go well with the stock market because they are full of purpose and intent. In a financialized economy the job of CEOs also involves creating convincing corporate narratives for the stock market to support the share price.

M&S shareholders resist Chairman Rose

July 8, 2008

Big Investors at M&S are upset over Stuart Rose being given combined roles of chief executive and executive chairman. Shares have plummeted after the retailer revealed a drop in annual like-for-like sales. Rose anticipates two tough years ahead

In advance of the general meeting [Wednesday, July 9th 2008] City rumours pointed to two big investment funds (Schroders and Legal & General) as leading a shareholder rebellion.

Stuart Rose

As a corporate leader Rose ticks all the boxes. He came in to M&S as a white knight to protect the decline in the company’s fortunes, which had attracted unwelcome advances from the buccaneering Philip Green. In a few years he has justified the rejection of Green’s offer, with a turnaround in trading figures, and climb in share-price.

He was increasingly noted as a role model of a dynamic business leader. A recent award from The World Leadership Forum was based on a poll of chief executives of nearly a thousand British businesses. The clear winner was Stuart Rose.

Malcolm Turner, President of the World Leadership Forum said:

“We are delighted to announce that Stuart Rose is the winner of our Business Leader of the Year Award. He is plainly Britain’s most admired businessman, having dramatically improved Marks & Spencer’s fortunes while operating in a notoriously competitive and fickle market. We organised this award because we think that recent television programmes such as ‘The Apprentice’, or ‘Trouble at the Top’, bear little relation to the reality of corporate life. Worse still they often give young people, at the outset of their careers, an image of business which is inaccurate and damaging. We believe that highlighting the work of the best business leaders, and the best management practice, will pay dividends to the wider business world and give young people a less distorted view of commerce.”

Appointed Chief Executive in May 2004, Stuart Rose first joined Marks & Spencer in 1972. He moved to the Burton Group in 1989, becoming Chief Executive of the Multiples Division in 1994. He joined Argos plc in 1997 as Chief Executive to defend the takeover bid from GUS. He then became Chief Executive of Booker plc, which merged with Iceland plc in 2000. He joined Arcadia Group plc as Chief Executive and left in 2002 following its acquisition.

I’ve blogged on Rose a bit, but not in detail. In general he has avoided the leadership pitfalls that have been examined in Leaders we deserve.

Robert Peston neatly skewers British business leaders for avoiding the risks of exposure in tough media interviews. Stuart Rose has been an exception to the general point being made by Peston. He projects calm, thoughtfulness, and a capacity to hold on the practicalities of a story while retaining a sense of long-term corporate objectives.

But then things started turning nasty

In April [2008] Leaders we deserve reported on the decision by M&S to appoint Sir Stuart to the dual roles of CEO and Chairman. We picked up the possible problems of governance involved. The message released by outgoing Chairman Lord Burns suggested that the company was anticipating problems from its shareholders.

He was to be proved right

The reactions were largely negative, although comments suggested that the institutional shareholders might want to find some way of expressing displeasure that fell short of censoring Lord Burns or Stuart Rose.

What’s going on?

My question as the company faces pressure from its shareholders is: what’s going on?

We could assume that the institutional shareholders are motivated by concerns over corporate social responsibilities. If the customary city mindset still holds, that only seems likely where CRS aligns with self-interest.

In other words, the real goals of the shareholders are wrapped up in the rhetoric of CSR.

In which case, this another game of strategic chess.

‘We like you as a leader, Sir Stuart, but not if you weaken our influence over decisions you might make which might damage our investment value in M&S in the short as well as the long term’.

Before the battle

A day before the battle, M&S shares had slumped and then rallied slightly in modest levels of trading.

Governance Issues at Marks & Spencer: Clarifications or Concessions?

April 5, 2008

Departing Chairman of M&S, Lord Burns

For an update to this post, July 9th 2008 : see the news item on the shareholders’ resistance to the dual role of Sir Stuart Rose.

Original Post

Lord Burns, the departing chairman of Marks & Spencer, writes with the clarity of a former Whitehall mandarin. But his message to shareholders seeking to clarify the company’s succession plans has been interpreted by the BBC as acknowledging concessions after protests from its major shareholders

Last Month [March 2008] Marks & Spencer announced that Stuart Rose would stay with the firm for an extra two years, until 2011. In view of Sir Stuart’s reputation, the move was seen as one aimed at reassuring various groups of the future of the firm under difficult trading conditions. However, the move was also seen as raising governance issues of one person as chairman and interim CEO. In a letter to shareholders, Chairman Lord Burns subsequently clarified the situation.

The BBC reported the statement, with quotes from the M&S chairman Lord Burns, but an examination of the original document suggest the BBC report should not be taken as a reliable summary of its contents.

In somewhat picky fashion, I’ll comment on the BBC report, point by point, which shows how much of such a report derives from an assumption which goes beyond the established facts.

I am now writing to provide some detail of the Board’s deliberations prior to making that announcement [over the interim appointment of Rose as executive chairman and CEO].

[All O.K. so far. No problems with the BBC report]

Marks & Spencer has offered shareholders concessions over controversial plans to name Sir Stuart Rose as executive chairman.

[Wrong. The letter offers clarifications not concessions].

In March, M&S said chief executive Sir Stuart would stay with the firm for an extra two years, until 2011, and be made executive chairman from 1 June.

[Correct. Well done, BBC]

But shareholders criticised the plan saying it gave too much responsibility to one executive.

[Wrong. See above. Nothing in the M&S statement. ]

There are speculations around that have been picked up by the BBC when it suggests that

Legal & General Investment Management have aired concerns that corporate governance standards should not be diluted “particularly in leading UK companies”.

[Maybe. It would have been nice to learn where the BBC obtained the information.]

…Concessions include yearly elections for Sir Stuart and no pay increase.

[Wrong: The M&S statement does not mention concessions]

Other measures proposed in the letter to shareholders, include appointing Sir David Michaels as deputy chairman while maintaining his position as a senior independent director. The retailer also said two new executive directors would be appointed and “significantly enlarged responsibility” would be given for the group finance and operating director. And to ensure the board has a majority of independent directors, the firm would hire an additional non-executive director

[That assumption again. As the BBC writes it, we are following the assumption that these are new concessions to shareholders, rather than clarifications of the status quo. Maybe I am missing something?].

Sir Stuart was initially appointed for a five year term in 2004, to turn around the business. But no obvious candidate emerged to take over in 2009 said M&S and given the recent uncertainty in the retail environment, the firm decided to extend and expand his position.

[Correct. Well done, BBC]

But leading investors opposed the move, with Legal & General Investment Management, which holds 5% stake in the firm saying corporate governance standards should not be diluted “particularly in leading UK companies”.

[As mentioned above, this is dodgy. In the letter released on the M&S website, fLord Burns acknowledged the plan would give cause for concern, and goes to some lengths to explain how the decisions were reached, and what safeguards were included to deal with any concerns about governance. But there are no specific details of shareholder opposition in the letter.

As the BBC writes about it, the letter is a response to events after the recent announcement, rather than clarification. The mention of Legal and General leads to the possibility that the BBC has acquired some information that they are reluctant to provide in a manner that reveals its origins]

What’s Going On

The Telegraph’s Damian Reece gets far more deeply into what happened. He outlines an explanation based on leaks and fear of leaks. There clearly has been a lot of activity behind the scenes since the original announcement by M&S. It would have been helpful if the BBC had found a way of differentiating between signalling what was believed to be going on, and what could stand scrutiny as substantiated facts.

Does any of this matter?

Maybe I am being pedantic. I am concerned that the BBC appears to be dropping below the standards I expect of it as a leading component of the Brand UK

Who owns the problem?

In preparing this blog post I wondered who was credited by the BBC for its report. Interestingly, it has no names attributed to it. Nor did the earlier BBC report a few weeks ago


After my snidy remark about the anonymity of the BBC reporting I thought I’d do the honourable thing by accepting authorship of this blog, which is claimed by Tudor Rickards. Views expressed are his own, and have been made on a personal basis.

The post was prepared solely from information available in the public domain.

Leaders rewarded, leaders shunned, in New Year honours

December 29, 2007


Retailer Stuart Rose and Scientist Ian Wilmut are rewarded with knighthoods in the Queen’s New Year honours list. They seem to have identikit records of significant leadership contributions to their fields. But another influential and distinguished scientist Colin Blakemore, is deemed too controversial a figure to be recognised publically for his services to the public

Stuart Rose was arguably a knight-in-waiting. It is a tradition within the British establishment to recognise our high profile business leaders, even when there is no cash for honours involved. We have tracked the high-profile Rose elsewhere, including his titanic battles with the doughty warrior Sir Philip Green.

Ian Wilmut, who led the team which created Dolly the sheep, is among a handful of scientific names whose achievements pioneered cloning research, and turned him into a public figure. Perhaps less known is his more recent work into stem-cell research. Ian Wilmut was again a near identikit national figure, whose knighthood could be explained as a process which had followed a time-honoured path.

Then there’s Professor Blakemore

Oh, yes. Then there’s Professor Blakemore. Among his fellow scientists there is a resigned acceptance that once again he has been passed over for recognition of his services to science.

On several counts he has been considered for ennoblement over the years. But for quite some time, Professor Blakemore’s advancement has been blocked. According to The Independent he is:

A leading British scientist who led the Medical Research Council for five years before stepping down earlier this year has been refused a knighthood in the New Year Honours List because of his outspoken support for animal research.

Tam Dalyell, the former Labour MP and veteran parliamentarian, deplored the decision, saying that the snub could only be attributed to cowardice on the part of government ministers worried about a possible public backlash…

Other scientists also criticized the decision on the grounds that Professor Blakemore has done more than anyone to explain to the public why many medical breakthroughs would have been impossible without animal experiments. “Irrespective of his role as head of the MRC, I’d have expected him to be honoured for his really critical role in promoting the need for animal research in bio-medicine,” said Professor Chris Higgins, vice-chancellor of Durham University

The Blakemore file

Journalists have now returned to an earlier story about the scientist. The affair reached which reached a House of Commons select committee in 2004, after a leaked memo which suggested Blakemore had in fact been blackballed.

Chairman: May I welcome our witness this morning, Professor Sir David King. It is very good of you to come and talk to us. We are not a committee concerned with science but with the administration of public affairs. We are looking, as you know, at the honours system amongst our different inquiries at the moment. You have probably worked out for yourself the line of connection which brings you before us. We had an interesting session a week or so ago with Professor Blakemore, who of course figured in the leak of the honours committee’s work

Sir David then offered some remarks intended to clarify the affair but explained that he was not able to divulge names of members serving on certain official committees [don’t ask me why. Or rather, ask why, although that is another story altogether].

The chairman tried his best to make progress with Sir David.:

Chairman: We are talking [speculatively] but, if I may read the offending leak quotation so that we can get our minds around it, “The (science and technology expert) committee were unlike to recommend [Blakemore] for his scientific work, particularly in view of his controversial work on vivisection. He has now moved to the [Medical Research Council], however, and it was possible his reputation would be improved. We should look at him again when he has had a little longer at the MRC.”

Professor Sir David King: I admire Colin Blakemore unreservedly, not only for his outstanding scientific work on the functioning of the brain but also for his courage in standing up to this very small bunch of extremists ..acting against the democratic interests of the country… I believe that Colin was courageous to stand up and speak on that issue … I would be very surprised if anyone on that …[mysterious Science and Technology] committee expressed a view differently from what I have said to you.

Chairman: That is what we are interested in. That makes it even more perplexing, does it not, because if we have had you the Chief Scientific Adviser heaping this paean of praise on Colin Blakemore, and if we have had the science minister Lord Sainsbury doing something likewise, why on earth do we get this statement that they are “unlikely to recommend him for his scientific work”—so they are saying that his scientific work is not good enough—and then they add “particularly in view of his controversial work on vivisection”. That word “particularly” is a bit of a giveaway there, is it not? It is not just the controversy about vivisection; it is that he is not up to it anyway and particularly because of his work on vivisection.

Professor Sir David King: That phrase is a complete nonsense…

Chairman: Where did the phrase come from?

Professor Sir David King: I believe the secretary wrote it down. I cannot believe that the committee expressed that view.

Chairman: He just made it up?

Professor Sir David King: He or she.

Clearly ..

There’s not much clarity about the process through which honours are dished out, or not, in this instance. Just about the clearest thing is the lack of clarity. [Rumsfeld, this is one for you]. Small wonder that the prolonged investigation into cash for honours never got anywhere, at considerable public expense.

Does it matter?

A messy question for a messy story. Professor Blakemore has demonstrated that his motivation is relatively immune to public acclaim as it has been immune to quite outrageous personal attacks by animal rights activists.

Nevertheless, the issue raises questions about how a culture rewards or withholds rewards for service to the public. It adds support to the idea over time a culture arrives at the leaders it deserves.